In what seems like a past life, four androgynous glam enthusiasts forged a synth-edelic gem of a debut, Hot Fuss, that swooned onto the charts and swept the group into arenas across the world. The Las Vegas band sang anthems of jealousy and Jenny, called themselves the Killers and ushered in a refreshing New Wave revival. At the center of it all was white coat-sporting frontman Brandon Flowers, who became famous for his onstage theatrics, lovelorn desert roars and fresh-shaved face. This was 2004, after all: Back then, the eyeliner ran thicker than the bass lines.
Eleven years and a handful of albums later, Flowers remains just as beguiling – even if there’s a little less gender-bending. Last night at New York’s Webster Hall, he admitted outright that “we’ve been coming here for 11 years, and I still get intimidated by this city,” but he commanded the crowd regardless, mixing a few old hits with new tracks from his forthcoming solo LP, The Desired Effect.
Red, mauve and peach lights – Sunset Strip shades – illuminated the venue as Flowers and his band opened with the new album’s punchy first track, “Dreams Come True.” From his first minute onstage, the singer played the part of a full-on entertainer, addressing the crowd with the politeness of a game show host and shimmying with the coy charisma of a Magic Mike stripper. The front row screamed as he unbuttoned his jacket during new single “Can’t Deny My Love,” as when he gripped his chest and dipped during early solo tracks “Crossfire” and “Magdalena.”
Flowers wears his influences (Echo and the Bunnymen, Depeche Mode) proudly on his lamé sleeves, and though the new songs are neither referential nor reverential, he couldn’t help but shout out one of his Eighties heroes halfway through the show. “Do you guys like Robert Palmer?” he asked before launching into a hell-raising cover of “Simply Irresistable.” “I’m not afraid to admit it.”
Accordingly, the set aim aimed for pop but remained grounded in the sturdy rock of a band led by drummer Darren Beckett. Two new backing vocalists, Erica Canales and Daniel Whiters, offered honeyed, Fleetwood Mac harmonies that nearly upstaged Flowers on new songs like “Dreams Come True,” and the album as whole seems to show the touch of Haim and Sky Ferreira producer Ariel Rechtsaid. Flowers described their collaboration as “in the spirit of conversation, contention and at long last, sweet contrition.” Whatever it is, it’s working.
Flowers can be a victim of his own passions, with his lyrics sometimes lingering toward the cliché. (How many more songs do we need about heads staying above water?) But his boyish charm, humility and unexpected bridges are tough to resist. “We’re going to play a few covers,” he at one point announced in his dusty voice. Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” seemed like an obvious choice. As did Stevie Nick’s “Edge of Seventeen,” which lingered over the earlier performance of “Can’t Deny My Love.” Instead, he played a couple of Killers tracks: at first a breathy, alt-country redux of “Jenny Was a Friend of Mine,” then later, to close the show, a take on “Mr. Brightside” that piled extra synths into the breakthrough hit. Visibly beaming, Flowers finished the song, walked offstage and waved, smiling like he meant it.
“Dreams Come True”
“Jilted Lovers & Broken Hearts”
“Jenny Was a Friend of Mine”
“Read My Mind”
“Digging Up the Heart”
“Can’t Deny My Love”
“Right Behind You”
“Only the Young”